By Derek Hendrickson
BOZEMAN — The Butte Central Maroons embraced the role of underdog Thursday afternoon and shocked the top ranked and defending champion Columbia Falls Wildcats 56-51 in quarterfinal action at the State A Basketball Tournament at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse. Stats
The game was truly a tale of two halves. In the first the Maroons attempted to rely on the deep ball, shooting over the two 6-foot-7 Wildcat post players, which resulted in a 26-20 Columbia Falls lead at halftime as Central struggled to shoot just 8 of 25 overall and 4 of 14 from behind the arc.
Maroon Head Coach Brodie Kelly was fired up after the win and spoke about the contrasting halves that propelled his team to the state semifinals. “I thought they did an awesome job getting inside touches,”” he said, that was our guys, we talked about it at halftime but it’s one thing to talk about it and another to do it. They did an awesome getting the ball to the interior, making an extra pass. First half we never shot a free throw, second half we got a lot more. I was as pleased with our defense as anything. I mean that’s a really good basketball team. Getting touches, getting deflections and I thought we were fortunate that we got a number of them. We got a lot of turnovers there.”
After the break the Maroons went straight through the Wildcats size, outscoring Columbia Falls 36-25 over the final two frames. The key stretch came midway through the third after the Wildcats pushed the lead to 30-22 with 4 straight points.
Central went on a quick 8 point surge to tie the game and seize the momentum. Dalton Sessions got things going with back to back strong drives that led to him draining for straight free throws. Then Marcus Ferriter connected on back-to-back buckets in the paint to even the score.
Columbia Falls briefly regained the lead when Grant Wallace got a gift basket after a loose ball eluded Central’s control and then Trevor Houston hit 2 free throws to make it 34-31. Ferriter scored again down low before Danny Peoples scored on a breakaway after the Wildcats attempted to milk the clock down in the quarter to give Central a 35-34 edge going to the fourth. It was the first Maroon lead since a Chad Peterson triple made it 14-12 early in the second.
The surge carried over into the fourth and Central would never give the lead up again. Ferriter again scored in close and after Houston hit two more charity tosses Sessions got an old fashioned three-point play to make it a two-possession game at 40-36.
Columbia Falls only hit one three on the night on eleven attempts. That shot was on the next trip as Glenn Morden took a contested shot that would hit nothing but backboard and net to cut the lead to 40-39. No one heard him call bank but Central was undeterred.
The Maroons did an outstanding job to shake off the bad luck and went on to score 9 of the next 10 points to build the biggest lead for either team. Ferriter got it started with another post bucket, Sessions scored on a drive and then made 1 of 2 free throws. Peterson picked off a pass and went coast to coast to put Central up 47-40 and Cal Hollow finished the run by making both ends of a one and one for a 49-40 lead with under 3 minutes to go.
The reigning champs weren’t going to go down without a fight and after getting a Grant Stegner bucket the Wildcats called timeout and went into a full court press. One of Class A’s top scorers, Ty Morgan, tossed in 4 quick points as the Maroons struggled with the pressure and the lead was back down to one possession at 49-46. During the run Ferriter picked up his fifth foul and forced the Maroons to tap into their bench.
After Morgan cut the lead to 3 Central put together an outstanding possession as the Wildcats attempted to get a steal. The Maroons played keep away for almost a minute before Hollow was finally fouled. He again stepped up and calmly connected on both free throws to make it a 51-46 game.
Hollow’s main contributions didn’t show up in the stat sheet as he had 4 points and wasn’t credited with any assists. He was able to help the Maroons break the press and was a key cog in the defense that harassed the Wildcats the entire second half.
“All week we focused, we have such a good practice team, going against that is a good practice,” Hollow said. “We just had to keep our cool, be collected, we were just pushing, we were attacking, there was no reason to not be attacking still, we had that mindset. We focused on shutting them down defensively, banging in the post, they have some good guys, it was a good win. We played as hard as we could and focused on our defensive game and that’s what paid off for us.”
Central’s relentless defense forced difficult shots down the stretch and the Maroons made enough of their free throws to hold off any comeback bid. The tough, man-to-man wouldn’t allow any uncontested threes and the Maroons dodged a bullet when Stegner couldn’t connect on either free throw, and the score 53-50 in the final minute.
Ferriter led all scored with 17 and had a team high nine rebounds to go with three steals. Sessions finished with 16, with 8 of those coming from the line in nine attempts. Peoples chipped in 10, Peterson had 9 and Hollow’s 4 free throws rounded out the Central scoring.
Ferriter talked about some early nerves and the shift of focus coming out to start the second half. “The first half we were kind of antsy,” he said, “that’s what it probably was, trying to get up some threes, trying to get up, we are so competitive, wanting to start out good.” Second half we kind of calmed down, we knew we had to get it inside, Dalton did great, everyone did great to get it inside. We were really confident, we did good on the free throws, we did great inside. There’s going to be fouls called on you, sometimes bad and you just have to deal with it. The team did great, I wasn’t nervous at all fouling out, I knew they were going to make their free throws. We’re just going to worry about winning.”
Central also got key minutes from Kyle Harrington, Cole Harper, Nate McGree and Tanner Kump in the win.
Wallace led Columbia Falls with 16. Houston and Morgan both had 12 and Morgan also led everyone with 10 boards from his point guard position.
The Maroons completely flipped the stat sheet from the first half to the second as they went from 32 percent shooting to 53 percent on their end and held the Wildcats to 27 percent in the final 16 minutes after giving up 52 percent in the opening 16.
Central was completely committed to getting the ball down low despite their size disadvantage in the second half, which was evident in them only taking 3 shots from downtown after the break and 14 beforehand.
The Maroons attempted zero free throws in the first half as they relied on quick outside shooting. In the second half they took the ball straight at the Wildcat defense resulting in 21 free throw attempts and 16 makes.
Sessions spoke about the charity stripe being a point of emphasis at halftime on offense, as well as getting down to some old fashioned Maroon defense. “We shot zero free throws in the first half and then we just tried to get contact and get it inside more,” Sessions said. “They kept finding Marcus and I more and we took it to the rack. He (Brodie) said that we need to get a hand on every ball, get tips, dive on the floor, offensive rebound, everything we can, all the hustle plays have to go our way. I think we did a better job of that the second half.”
The Maroons advance to play Laurel in the first semifinal game Friday evening at 6:30. Laurel survived a tight game with Belgrade, 48-46. The Locomotives knocked the Maroons off in the first game of the season at the MAC during the annual Tip-Off Tournament. That was a close game that Central led for much of before Laurel pulled away late in a 44-36 win. Ferriter was held scoreless in that game the same week he committed to playing football for Montana State.
Ferriter looks to avenge that loss and attempt to bring home the trophy that eluded him in football, saying “the first game, I just wasn’t concentrating enough, but we’ll definitely be ready for tomorrow to get some revenge and make it to the state championship.”
Hollow spoke about Laurel and the effort he expects from Ferriter. “They’re a great team,” he said, “their record shows, I think Satch will have a great game, he’ll make some moves for us. We gotta go in with confidence, confidence is key for us, anything can happen, it’s state basketball. I think if we have confidence, come out hard and play defense like we did tonight we’ll be all right. They’re a great team, it’ll be a challenge for us.”
Sessions echoed Hollow’s sentiments about Central’s semifinal opponent. “They’re a great team,” Sessions said, “it’ll be a good one, it’ll be close.”